In the third game of a critical five-game road trip, the Florida Panthers will once again hand the reigns over to goalie James Reimer, who will make his third start in four nights against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday.
In the absence of injured goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is expected to miss "an extended period of time" after suffering a lower-body injury on Dec. 4, Reimer appears to have finally settled into his new role as Florida's defacto starter. In the four games since Luongo went down, Reimer has posted a 2-1-1 record with a .900 save percentage.
"He realizes that we have no other option," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "It's Louie and him. Obviously, [Harri] Sateri is a quality goaltender, but he doesn't have a lot of experience. He knows he needs to be good and step it up, and help this team get where we need to be. He's certainly done that in the last couple games."
Reimer stopped 59 of 63 shots in back-to-back games to split a pair of overtime decisions against Detroit and Chicago on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Over his past seven starts, the 29-year-old netminder has been handed just one loss in regulation (3-1-3), a lopsided 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Avalanche at BB&T Center on Saturday.
"It's obviously fresh in our mind," Boughner said. "We didn't really like our game the last time we played these guys. We're going to try and follow-up what we did last night in Chicago and [on Monday] in Detroit; keep worrying about our game. Their team has some confidence right now. That one big line, if you're not ready, they can do some damage. We've got to make sure that we're good against those guys."
Reimer traditionally relishes playing in Denver, where he owns a 3-0-0 record, with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in three career starts. In Saturday's loss to Colorado, he allowed five goals on 28 shots, including a highlight-reel goal from Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon.
In that game, however, the Panthers (12-14-5) were without their own superstar center, Aleksander Barkov, who sat out the game with an upper-body injury. After the loss, Boughner pointed to Barkov's noticeable absence as one of the main reasons for his team's struggles, saying that missing players of that caliber will "eventually catch up with you."
Colorado's top line of MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen has scored 30 of the team's 93 goals this season. MacKinnon and Rantanen each scored against the Panthers on Saturday, while Landeskog registered an assist.
"Every team has those players that can do something from nothing," said Barkov, who has 29 points (10-19-29) in 30 games. "You've got to pay attention, play smart, don't leave pucks in the neutral zone and don't feed their transition. I know they have a couple good players who can score. We've just got to play smart."
The Avalanche (13-13-2) return home after splitting a four-game road trip against Eastern Conference opponents. Like the Panthers, this will be the third game in four nights for Colorado, which is coming off a 5-2 loss in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
"I find that if you play a game against a team in back to backs or in close proximity, it's tough to win them both," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said about tonight's rematch with the Panthers. "I like a lot of the things we did in Florida."
- Denis Malgin, who exited Tuesday's game in the first period with an upper-body injury, participated in Thursday's morning skate at the Pepsi Center. It's unclear whether or not he will play tonight. The 20-year-old forward has four goals in 14 games this season with the Panthers.
- The Panthers have killed off 28 of 31 (90.62%) opposing power plays over their past 11 games. In that span, the Panthers rank fourth in the NHL in penalty killing. They have been perfect on the PK in four of their last six games, including three consecutive games without allowing a power play goal. "We're challenging more up ice, not letting them set up in their formation," Boughner said.
- Evgenii Dadonov returned to the Panthers lineup on Tuesday after missing six games due to an upper-body injury. The 28-year-old winger has recorded 18 points (7-11-18) over 23 games this season.
- Avalanche center Alex Kerfoot sat out Tuesday's game with a leg injury. The 23-year-old forward is tied for fourth among NHL rookies in scoring with 21 points (9-12-21). He is currently listed as day to day and will not play on Thursday against Florida.
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad
Jamie McGinn - Vincent Trocheck - Evgenii Dadonov
Connor Brickley - Jared McCann - Radim Vrbata
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
MacKenzie Weegar - Alex Petrovic
Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Denis Malgin
Injured Reserve: Roberto Luongo (games missed: 4)
- Dec. 12 G Roberto Luongo placed on IR
- Dec. 12: F Evgenii Dadonov activated from IR
- Dec. 6: G Harri Sateri recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Dec. 5: F Henrik Haapala loaned to Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, Dec. 14, 9:00 p.m. ET
Where: Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
TV coverage: FOX Sports Florida (check local listings)
Florida Panthers Radio Network Presented by HARD Lifestyle Beverages: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
Where to stream it: FOX Sports GO and NHL.TV (outside state of Florida)